Novak Djokovic, the world’s No. 1-ranked male tennis player and his sport’s most prominent vaccination skeptic, said on Tuesday that he would play in this month’s Australian Open after receiving a medical exemption.
Djokovic, the men’s tournament’s defending champion, revealed his plans in a post on his Instagram account alongside a photograph of himself with luggage on an airport tarmac. “I’m heading Down Under with an exemption permission,” he wrote. “Let’s go 2022.”
Tournament officials confirmed in a statement on Tuesday that Djokovic had received a medical exemption after a review of his application by two independent panels, a procedure that strongly suggests he remains unvaccinated.
Djokovic’s participation in the Australian Open, the tennis season’s first major, was in doubt as recently as last week, when he reportedly withdrew from an event in Sydney. Djokovic, who has had Covid, has consistently refused to say whether he has been inoculated or intends to be.
According to the rules for the Australian Open, all participants must be vaccinated against the coronavirus or apply for and receive a medical exemption from an independent panel of experts.
In December, Djokovic’s father, Srdjan Djokovic, raised new questions about his son’s participation, and his vaccination status, when he suggested that Djokovic was unlikely to play in Australia “under these blackmails and conditions.”
Those comments came only days before Novak Djokovic was named as a participant in the Australian Open by the tournament’s organizers when they released the entry list for the main draw.
“Defending champion Djokovic will play for an incredible 10th Australian Open trophy — and a men’s record 21st major singles title — and will be the favorite in a draw which showcases 49 of the world’s top 50,” the tournament said in a statement announcing the field.
But Craig Tiley, the chief executive of Tennis Australia, which hosts the tournament, quickly moved to clarify that Djokovic’s inclusion in the entry list was not a confirmation that he had agreed to be vaccinated, or that he would be allowed to enter Australia, which has some of the world’s most strict coronavirus protocols for foreigners.
“As a matter of course, everyone goes on the entry list,” Tiley said in a local television interview at the time. “It’s not a commitment list about who’s exactly in the draw. That comes in several weeks’ time, when the actual list, and draw, gets finalized for the Australian Open.”
The Open’s draw will be held Jan. 10. The tournament begins on Jan. 17.